The following is taken from writer (The Every Boy) and Oscar-nominated filmmaker (Murderball) Dana Adam Shapiro’s You Can Be Right (Or You Can Be Married), a by-turns funny, wise, harrowing, and heartbreaking collection of interviews with divorcees.
The Interviewee is Pauline, 98, retired mother of two. Divorced. Lives in Florida; grew up in New York. Married in 1923, 1941, and 1959.
You would definetly grab a thing or two from this.
Did you have lots of boyfriends growing up in the 1930s?
I never had boyfriend trouble. I always had plenty of guys.
You’ve been married three times. Tell me about the first.
Oh, Christ. The first time was right after I graduated from prep school. I was seventeen years old—what did I know about living? Nothing. He wasn’t for me but I married him anyway. I didn’t know any better. I had my kids with him, so it was worth it. Then I divorced him. Then someone fixed me up with a man from Chattanooga. He was the cheapest son of a bitch that ever lived. So I divorced him, too.
What else didn’t you like about him?
I’m telling you a very intimate thing here…[lowers her voice.] His ding-dong was very small. So he went for an operation and they made it bigger.
He splurged on that?
Yes he did. But I couldn’t stay married to him.
He was too cheap! [laughs] Then I married Bill Simmons. He was quite a man, I’m telling you. He was terrific. Very bright. And he was mad about me. We had a wonderful time. But he died, and I haven’t been married since. Although I did have a lover. One special man.
What was he like?
He was married! [laughs] His daughter was married to my brother, okay? He was in the ready-to-wear business. He was one of the big shots when they started making t-shirts. We went together for years. I used to meet him on Saturdays and we’d go to a suite at the Waldorf Astoria.
So you’ve had three husbands and one lover. Which one were you the most mad about?
An affair is very different than a marriage because you can break it off at anytime. And this man made life very exciting. It was never dull around him. I like when a man has money and he can take me places and buy me things. All women do. Don’t let anybody tell you differently, okay? If he would buy his wife a present, he would buy me a better one. He once bought her a diamond heart, and the next day he brought me a gorgeous diamond bracelet, very expensive. You see that I’m telling you? Tit for tat. Nothing was too good for me.
So we need to make our marriages more like affairs—is that your advice?
Yes. Then it becomes exciting!
How was his relationship with his wife?
He never got along with his wife. I shouldn’t say never—what do I know? Her family had money, they were in the fish business. He didn’t come from money, and I think that’s why he married her. But he was always running around.
Did his wife know?
I’ll tell you a story. They used to have a summer place up in Maine. One day, they were on their way up there and they stopped by my work—I worked in a shoe factory at the time. And she came into my office and said, “Would you please come with us?” And I said, “Hell no. What am I going up there for?” And she said, “Because he’s miserable
without you.” I’ll never forget that.
Did you go?
Yeah, I went.
So she knew the whole time?
She knew. But she couldn’t do anything about it. She was a nice lady, but she wasn’t a pretty lady. And she wasn’t an exciting lady. But they stayed married until he died. I’m sure he had many women in his life besides me.
Did your brother and his wife know?
Yes. Because she said to me just a short while ago: “I knew about the affair between you and my father. He was crazy about you.”
Were you hoping that he’d leave his wife for
Oh, when something belongs to me, I want it. But I knew I could never marry him because my whole family would be
involved. And that wouldn’t be good at all. My father, he used to say to me: “Are you happy?” And I’d say: “Yeah.”
And he’d say: “Good, stay that way—it’s better than being unhappy.”
What else did your father teach you about love?
Listen, my father was a run-around, too. All the men from that generation who came to this country and made a few bucks, they all ran around.
How about the women?
At that time, no. Not so much. Now, it’s different. Now, everybody runs around [laughs].
Do you think it’s okay to run around?
Well, I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it. If she was unhappy, I would want her to get a divorce and meet a nice guy. And she did! Her second husband is a wonderful guy. He’s just mad about her. And she likes him, too. I don’t know how much she loves him, but I know he’s very good to her.
Did any of your husbands run around?
No. Well, I should say that I never caught any of them. [laughs]
Let’s talk about Bill Simmons for a second. Your third husband.
Oh, he was wonderful.
What made that marriage so good?
First of all, you have to be sexually compatible. That’s very important. If anyone tells you different, they’re nuts. And he was extravagant; he liked living the way I did. We used to dance, which I love to do. We used to drink, have a few cocktails. And he had a lot of friends. I met them all. They were all cheaters. Most men are cheaters —you know that, don’t you? I could meet a cheater tomorrow if I wanted to. But I’ve had enough men. I’m 98 years old, what the hell do I want a man for? What can I give him? What can he give me? Nothing.
What advice would you give to a couple that’s been married for ten years and is looking to spice up their sex life?
First of all, a man mustn’t be selfish. He’s had his orgasm, he’s got to make sure she’s had hers, too. That whole wham, bam, thank you, ma’am—that’s no good. But it’s very hard to spice things up after ten years. If you haven’t got that feeling, and he hasn’t got that feeling, get a divorce. It’s the only way. You’re better off alone. Because when you live with someone that doesn’t make you happy, it’s miserable. It’s worse than being alone.
Do you think it’s unrealistic that one could be happy with the same person for 50, 60 years?
Yeah. And I’ll tell you why. You get used to each other. And as you get older, you’re not looking for the same things anymore. I don’t like to be bored with life. You’ve got to have a lot of passion and you’ve got to have a lot of feeling. Without feeling, there’s nothing, it’s just an act—and that’s no good. You have to have that urge. And you both have to have it. You don’t say, “We’re going to have sex on Monday.” No. He might come in from a golf match, all filthy dirty, and then all of a sudden you’re in bed and you’re having a hell of a time!
What’s the strangest thing a man has asked you to do?
Oh! Everything! And if you want to do it, you do it. If you don’t want to do it, you say, “No, I’m not interested in that.” That’s how simple it is. A man might say, “Suck me off.” A lot of women like to do that. A lot of women love
it. Some don’t. A lot of men don’t like to do that to the women, you know? It goes both ways.
Why does love die?
I’ll tell you why. One of you drifts away. You have to have a lot in common to stay married. If he wants to go dancing and you don’t want to go, well, that’s okay occasionally, but don’t do it every night because you can be sure that he’ll find someone else to dance with. Even drinking. Some men like to go to a bar and have a few drinks. So they meet people at the bar. And before you know it, they’re involved a little bit. That’s the way it is. You need to do things together.
How important is compromise?
Very. You have to give all of yourself to make the other person happy. But you have to make it so that you each want to give that much. Otherwise it’s no good. A woman, if her husband’s a golfer, she should learn to play golf. Otherwise, he’s on the golf course all the time.
And if a woman likes to play bridge…
He should learn how to play, too. You’re damn right. That’s part of living together—teaching each other things.
According to statistics, more and more women are the ones asking for the divorces these days. Very different from your generation.
Right, the world today is completely different because the women are successful. A lot of women are more successful than their husbands. And that’s not necessarily good for marriage. It’s wonderful for women, of course, but if they become more successful than their husbands, it can be bad because then the man loses respect for himself. And then the husband becomes the pussycat—and that’s no good. That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong plenty of times in my life.
Do you think the men are more like women these days?
I think so. I think men are much more interested in the way they look. Much more. I think they dress differently than
they used to. They go to the gym. Now, the women have to keep up with them!
Would you like to be a young woman in today’s world?
Oh yeah. Because I feel like I could keep up with any man. I’m not being conceited—don’t misunderstand me. But I
understand men. I do. My father, he always said to me, “If I was married to a woman like you, I’d own the world.” He
used to tell me that. I was the favorite, and I knew it. I could have had anything I wanted. I don’t tell that to my brothers and sisters because I don’t want to hurt their feelings.